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Concept Albums Explained

by Paul-Newell Reaves

James Sizemore

Film composer James Sizemore– credited for work on the “Twilight” series and “the Hobbit”– released his Contemporary Classical album Frameworks in 2018.  The tracks are titled after concepts of geometry and mathematics, and his work becomes an elegant statement of meaning in Post-Post-Modernism.

The album insists that, as we consider the album as a text, we examine the tracks backwards, from last to first, in reverse of the arranged listening order.  Why?  There is no why in math!  It will all add up under analysis.

No graph paper will be necessary for our musical calculations.  But your mind will expand exponentially by the time we arrive at the beginning.

How does one examine an album that has no lyrics– such as this one– as though it were a text, how does one analyze a work without words as a work of literature?  It is the titles of each track, and how each piece of music relates to its title, as well as to the totality of the album, that become the definitive elements for textual analysis of this album.

Explicating the reverse order approach, the last of the eleven tracks is titled “Prelude”, even though the Latin prefix pre- would indicate a before-than position.  

Immediately before “Prelude”, a track titled “Helix” references the double helix of DNA, intrinsic to us all.  The first explicitly mathematical title to occur in this reverse order reading, the DNA helix is situated as not only the foundation on which all human beings are built, but also on which the album is built– and therefore, by extrapolation, all music, and all systems of mathematics.  

This reversed textual thrust is further justified by track nine, “Ascending Order”.  Complete with ascending key-changes on the stringed instruments, this track makes clear that the text must be read from bottom to top. 

As the album continues through tracks eight to six, entitled “Ellipse”, “Oblique” and “Curve”– all of which plot geometrically as flowing, curvaceous shapes– we are led on our complex way to track five, “Trajectory”.  

A trajectory, however, is not a shape, but a direction, pointing us on to track four, “Vertex”, defined mathematically as a point of intersection.  

All the pieces on “Frameworks” utilize a quintet of piano, viola, cello and dual violins.  Yet “Vertex” includes an additional instrument, the theremin.  What can Sizemore mean, authorially, by including this electronic and distinctly spooky instrument on this specific track?  

We turn again to the title: a vertex, a point where lines meet, extrapolated to mean a place of meeting for anything one can imagine– instruments, art, people, texts…  

The theremin marks this track musically as different, a turning point for the album.  

For mathematics is soon to be cast aside.

Sizemore’s follow-up album of 2020, “While Being” will go beyond this rough stuff of physical existence, examining in a similar fashion to “Frameworks” what goes one in-between these mathematical building blocks, what goes on while being part of this framework, complete with intertextual references between the two albums– passages of music that mimic or copy each other, connecting them together. 

But his “Frameworks” album is far from complete.  We have more to calculate.  

“Tangential” is the title of the track preceding “Vertex”, and for the first time– in the backwards reading– a title that is not a noun, not a thing.  A tangent  is defined mathematically also as an intersection, but specifically an intersection between a curved geometric shape and a line perpendicular to that curve, a line moving distinctly in a different direction.  Tangential, then, would mean of or like a tangent, but also can mean erratic, as in tangential thoughts.

Furthering this titular distancing, the second track– in the backwards reading, the next to last– has the title of the not-so-mathematical concept “Corollary”.  A corollary is a notion of Aristotelian Logic– a proposition proved as a consequence of some previous argument.  

When read in the insisted upon ascending order, this logical conclusion leads to the title of the first and simultaneously last track, which is, “Smashed to Pieces”.  Now that’s a statement– and accomplished in only 15 words over 40 minutes.  But a statement of what, exactly?

Let’s double check our proof.  A curvaceous ascending order leads us towards a trajectory, one that points us to an intersection, which in turn leads off in a tangential direction to a corollary, which is that this album, and therefore all mathematics, all order, even our very DNA, must be smashed to pieces.

Could Sizemore’s statement become a moving away from mathematics in music– a movement away from 12 tone Western music theory?  

Perhaps not, after all, this statement of moving away from mathematics and order is a completely backwards list, itself out of order– indicating a reversal of such a statement.  

But what other meanings, textual ones, arise when read from first to eleventh, in the listed track order?  They are arranged that way on the album intentionally, authorially, surely this cannot be at random.

A Marxist meaning arises: if Sizemore wants to sell some records, he should probably position a catchy single in the first slot.  “Smashed to Pieces” is a resounding banger.

And a statement of Post-Post-Modernism arises.  

That is the term Jeffery Nealon uses for the next stage of artistic zeitgeist, the next mode of artistic expression after Postmodernism. And he defines it as Postmodernism to the quadratic power.  This shift in Zeitgeist is created not by a single publication– “the Sorrows of Young Werther”, or “The Interpretation of Dreams”– nor by a war, or, perhaps, a plague.  It is created by a generational shift.  

The creators rising to prominence in the mid-1980s and into the 21st Century– as stated by Nealon– are raised to adulthood not in the restrictive space of early 20th century Modernism, with its still Victorian social codes, its sexual hangups and its Colonialist biases, these artists were raised in and by an already Postmodern period.  The Post-Post-Modernists are raised by beatnik dads and flower-child moms.  The sizematic shift of consciousness known as Modernism has now grown up.

So– Nealon argues– Post-Post-Modernism amplifies the already vast textual complexity of Postmodernism exponentially.  Don Delillo, Kathy Acker, Alan Moore; the artist known as Prince; Tim Burton; Conscious Hip-Hop artists– all of these creators are examples of early Post-Post-Modernism.

This amplified textual complexity is fully at play in Sizemore’s work, textually, by the simultaneous forwards and backwards hermeneutical reading and listening dynamic.  

I additionally argue that any notion of Post-Post-Modernism should factor with elements of String Theory, Chaos Theory, and the warping of Space-Time.  And I argue that the concepts just now listed bring to Post-Post-Modernism a distinctly– indeed immensely– different aesthetic from Modernism and Postmodernism: a knowability in Chaotic absurdity, a rationality in relativity, and some devisable, if not necessarily authorial, meanings.  

String Theory suggests there are exactly eleven dimensions to the universe.  If you haven’t been counting, Sizemore’s debut has eleven tracks.

Calculations complete.

More Concept Albums Explained,
including The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,
and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Revisited

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